Keeping it fresh
What was the genesis of the idea of the Jo’burg Fringe five years ago?
I heard that there was going to be a Jo’burg Art Fair. I had been living in Berlin long enough to know that every art fair has a fringe or various fringe shows so three of us got together and created the first fringe literally in a matter of six weeks on a shoe-string and it was in the old potato sheds behind the Museum Africa.
It was a massive space, with no walls, there were wire fences which we covered in black plastic. We had some massive installations and sculptural pieces. This led onto the second year where we had a presence on the building site of Arts on Main, just a sort of foot-holder to keep the name going.
The third year was 2010 when we had the world cup and we had a line-up of South African and international video artists – we showed this surreptitiously all over the city, also on the wall opposite the main show of the Jo’burg Art Fair, on opening night, because we realized people don’t know who we are, and they don’t know where to find us – so we went to find them.
And then last year we came to Braamfontein and were a little more organized. We were in a parking garage and had a great show. BY then people were becoming aware of who were are and what we’re up to.
This year we’re in Braamfontein again and there are about five other openings on the same night. Plus, there’s a new kid on the block – the Jo’burg Fridge which is the fringe of the fringe.
Tell us about the Goethe-Institut’s presence at the Art Fair Fringe.
They sponsored us in our first year, and then they came back this year. They have been watching us from afar and then we approached them again. They came forward and were very supportive, and it’s great. It looks like we are going places together.
What is your perception of the development of The Fringe over the past five years?
Two things are also a prerogative: What was important to us was to get a reputation among the artists, so that they would want to be on the show. That it would be something they could be proud of. The other was to educate them on why they need to be on The Fringe. An art fair is a bit stagnant, it’s always the same people; the galleries have to make money to cover the costs so they sell the same names.
And on the other hand we needed to educate the public, that there is such a thing as The Fringe, and to get them to come.
Now that we’ve spoken about the past, let’s speak about the future. Where do you see the initiative going?
I see it absolutely maintaining its freedom so it can move around, so it’s not stuck in one place. It should begin to attract international artists, which we have got. We’ve got First Floor Gallery from Harare, we’ve got Umoja Gallery from Uganda, we’ve got artists from Kenya, we’ve got artists from Germany, New York.
If you could do something better or differently, with or without added resources, what would you do? What would you change in order to improve?
To find a really exciting place, no matter what it is and make it work. We’ve seen that with lots of spaces we’ve been in, people have said, “Wow we didn’t know we could come to this part of the city,” and we’ve made it lively.
You get there and you find that you’ve left some trail of magic dust. Then stuff happens. It’s great to see. So, a really amazing space like the frame of the old Park Station beside the Nelson Mandela Bridge, the original glass and metal construction, would be great with a tent inside.
We spot these amazing areas in the city.
How is the jury selected?
The core group that started The Fringe work really well together and enjoy doing this. In a broad sense it’s family and I know how to get people to do stuff. I have managed to convince them. The judges are either personal friends, people who are admired or respected on the arts scene. We looked for people who are not the usual suspects to be judges.
We like the idea of everything to be a bit “fringe”. Then the Goethe-Institut had a look at a long list and chose five out of our list.
If you fiddle with it too much then it’s not going to work. So it is always exciting to see what the different characters, what they bring [to the process] and how they complement each other.
How is the selection done?
They look at the works and at photographs. I didn’t lay too much stress on an artist’s statement because I think the work as to speak for itself. Of course an artist’s statement does help if you are looking at a photograph of an installation or if the artist is trying to get a conceptual idea across.
Tell us about the show.
When I was looking at the selection process I saw a number of works that I thought would be a pity to let slip through. So I thought of making The Fridge of The Fringe. Because it happened at short notice, on the spur of the moment, I am curating it. It has no restrictions and no rules.
There is the invited show curated by Gordon Froud called North and South. It is made up of works from the four ex-technikons. Two in Johannesburg, on in Pretoria and one in the deep South, which is Bloemfontein. That show is happening at the National School of the Arts.
Then there’s an invited outdoor video show on The Grove, it’s by film students from Cape Town and is selected by Kevin Yates.
At the bag Factory we have the Junior Fringe which should encourage people to go and look at the Bag Factory’s 21-years show. It will showcase young-up-and-coming artist for The Fringe of tomorrow.
But this year the Jo’burg Fringe is on the main FNB Jo’burg Art fair in a collaboration between The Fringe and the Goethe-Institut. We will have a presence in a curated show by Nontombeko Ntombela of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. It will be live and interactive.
The Jo’burg Fringe: A Joburg Art Fair parallel/piggyback show takes place until September 9 on the Juta Street precinct, between Hoofd, Smit, Melle and De Beer Streets, Braamfontein.